If you were to take all the major ballads of any of the great songwriters and boil them into a single composition, you might get a song as good as "Lush Life." Which, as it happens, pretty much sums up Billy Strayhorn's career as a writer of love songs. Apart from "Something to Live For," also presented to Ellington in '38, "Lush Life" remains the sole Strayhorn ballad to have entered the standard singer's repertory. And even "Lush Life" sneaked in through the back door, after being left by its father in the trunk for ten years.
Ten years ago, "Lush Life" was so overdone in every loft in Manhattan it became the last thing anybody wanted to hear. Your average jazz singer would stick the mike in her face and scat for a half-hour, following which, she would then maul "Lush Life" in an attempt to prove she could remember a lyric. And if they didn't smother both the life and the lushness out of the song, Linda Ronstadt did.
But with all the important and worthwhile readings of the tune available now and with entry-level vocalists discovering that there are other copasetic retro numbers too, we can again appreciate "Lush Life" for the great song that it is. Long after the ashtrays are full and the glasses are empty, "Lush Life" resounds as an American classic. As Ellington said way back at Carnegie in 1948, "I don't know which is better, living a 'Lush Life' or singing about it."